The two films noir covered in this edition of the digest are less than gripping. But they do raise interesting issues.
Conflict (1945) has Humphrey Bogart as an engineer in a loveless marriage who bumps off his wife so that he can make a play for her younger sister. The script is good and an enticing mystery twisted into psychological entrapment should have been gripping, but sadly Curtis Bernhardt directs a rather somnambulant cast. Although Bogie tries hard, both Alexis Smith as the younger sister and Sidney Greenstreet as a shrink on a diet are flat. This said, the sleepiness has a fascinating counterpoint. Early on after a car accident Bogart falls into a coma – a swirling whirlpool tells us that – and he wakes up in a hospital bed with murder on his mind. From this point Bernhardt and his DP Merritt Gerstad deftly craft a dream-like atmosphere that is really intriguing. While some mysterious events and Bogart’s spiral into paranoia had me thinking of a ‘Woman-in-the-Window’ resolution, a nice though strangely anti-climactic twist proves otherwise. Interesting also is a degree of rare ambiguity. We never know Smith’s true feelings for Bogart, and he actually makes a selfless if not quite noble call at the height of his paranoia.
Rogue Cop (1954) on paper ticks most of the right noir boxes: a screenplay by Sydney Boehm based on a novel by William P. McGivern; an a-list cast including Robert Taylor, Janet Leigh, and George Raft; lensing by John Seitz; and journeyman director Roy Rowland. Taylor plays a crooked cop in league with mobster Raft, who has to face the music when his younger honest cop brother is pressured to turn bad. The whole affair falls flat with Taylor at his wooden worst, and while Leigh and Raft try harder, they cannot enliven proceedings against the mud tide of Rowland’s leaden direction. DP Seitz is largely wasted, with the only interesting visuals under the opening credits. Boehm’s script lacks subtlety, and would have disappointed McGivern who was not a writer content with simple verities or homilies. Imagine what Fritz Lang could have done and weep: a lesson in how not to make a film noir.